The Irish giants rock Belfast three times in a day…
On December 17th And So I Watch You From Afar treated fans in Belfast to a trio of special gigs to mark the end of their headline European tour and their return to Northern Ireland for the end of the year.
Travelling for thirty hours from Bremen, Germany through arctic conditions, minimal sleep and two days since a wardrobe change may hinder your average band, but ASIWYFA set about delivering on their promise of Christmas cheer despite heavy snowfall grinding the entire country to a halt.
The first two performances were to be very personal affairs, with a sixty fan capacity for each met minutes after the band originally announced the guestlist sign up process last week. With incredible demand for the first gig at the Catalyst Art Centre, a second was soon announced to be held on-board a barge on the Lagan, followed by a midnight show at Auntie Annie’s for paying (and queueing) punters.
I’d initially just missed being within the first sixty to respond for the first gig, but after several people dropped out I was briefed on the secret location and three o’clock start for part one of ASIWYFA’s three pronged attack on their adopted home city.
Experiences such as this momentous gathering are ones that have been and will be few and far between, a heartfelt gift from four guys who, despite having been around the globe, haven’t forgotten where they come from. The exclusivity of this ‘in your living room’ proximity gig made it one the lucky sixty in attendance shouldn’t brush off as a common occurrence.
The instrumental centrepiece of the empty showroom took up their positions. Rory, Tony and Johnny, in a not so accidental triangular formation facing drummer Chris Wee, enclosed by the surrounding sixty and with a dead air about to be congested with laughter, took song requests and every so often some galactically-sized balls out rock.
The open invitational setlist alone made this a warmingly personal and unique setup, with shouts for ‘The Machine‘ and ‘These Riots…‘ followed by what Rory described as the “mandatory ‘Free Bird‘”. ASIWYFA couldn’t fulfil every wish in the room but gave it their best, with ‘D Is For Django The Bastard‘ from the ‘Letters‘ EP and the new teaser single ‘Straight Through The Sun‘ going off like a grenade in your hand.
The blast radius of Chris Wee’s incredible ability by itself may have been enough to grapple the attention of many, including my own eyes which for most of the hour barely strayed from the kit, not least because I was close enough to be tearing drumstick splinters from my own flesh. See for yourself from my point of view below:
Going one further was the treat of hearing a never-before-played-to-an-audience song intended for the next album, as of yet untitled and perhaps amongst ASIWYFA’s heaviest written material. A ‘Set Guitars…’ sequel perhaps but a statement of continuance certainly, evidence that ASIWYFA aren’t disappearing any time soon.
With audience members providing guest percussion and over sixty pairs of lungs finally put to use on a rather extraordinary airing of ‘Don’t Waste Time Doing Things You Hate‘ gave everyone an opportunity for post-rock Christmas carolling, something that doesn’t come around too often. As a fifth band member the audience gave a voice to the voiceless band, even Rory Friers was left feeling that this should’ve been the finale. But as endings go, ‘The Voiceless‘ wasn’t half bad either, not least when it’s followed by these words:
Of a trilogy of Belfast gigs, this one was certainly the most reserved with anarchy in Auntie Annie’s and a floating riot on the Lagan later in the day, but neither of those prompted this message from the band afterwards:
“â€Ž1st show down. One of the most special shows we’ve done in our existence, to everyone who came down and made it so special, thank you.”
A real treat for the lucky few who made it down. Christmas may come once a year but these are the kind of gigs most will never have the chance to experience again and with even the gift of an exclusive live recordings collection of the band’s year in highlights to walk away with, there’s enough evidence that album two will be anything but stocking filler.